As it turns out, Frozen Head State Park is a great place for us to hike. Not only is the park convenient, located an hour’s drive from Knoxville, but it is dog friendly and has a number of easy, moderate and challenging trails, most previously unexplored by us. Over the past six weeks we have hiked all but one short trail out of the Old Mac Parking lot so on this hike we targeted a couple of trails which form Bird Mountain Loop Trail out of Big Cove Campground.
We arrived at Big Cove about 10:00 am, later than planned as John went to work to help a student earlier in the morning. A group of six hikers about our age pulled into the parking lot at same time. Although we fiddled with the dog and stopped to look at Big Cove Branch Creek, we ended up leapfrogging with the faster members of the group the first 2 miles of the hike. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since they knew where they were going, we weren’t 100% sure and one of the trails had been renamed since our 2013 map was printed. Thing is, when one is huffing and puffing up steep and endless switchbacks, it can be a little frustrating to pass someone and have them turn around and pass you back, again and again and again!
We climbed the “sunny” side of Bird Mountain, 1.8 miles of steep switchbacks and heated up fast. Seems like we stopped or slowed often to peel layers, down jackets, gloves, neck gaiters and hats. I left my fleece vest on way too long.
Finally we hit ridge top and the view from both sides of the mountains was spectacular. Our trail junction was located here and what we expected to be marked as Bird Mountain Trail had been renamed as the Cumberland Trail.
Bird Mountain highpoint, 3000′, is on the Cumberland Trail, about .55 miles of climbing past the trail junction. As one of the hikers from the group of six told us as she arrived, “the worst climbing is over now. Oh, we still have more up but nothing like what we have just done.” The trail stays on or just below the Bird Mountain ridge for another 2.4 miles.
The last leg of the loop is closed by the West Tower Trail, about 2.5 miles on a jeep road. While we initially thought our hike down would be easier, we were wrong. The road was muddy, rocky and quad burning. On the other hand, our pup Katie found pure joy in the drainage creek along side the road.
Total mileage for the day was 7.8 miles, which included 1/2 miles to and from the lower Big Cove parking lot. The first 2.5 miles of the hike is rated difficult and the rest, rated moderate. John said my “whine” factor was high but it usually is early in the season. We will be back to hike this loop again in another 6-8 weeks.